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Then-Attorney General Bill Barr during a Dec. 21 news conference at the Department of Justice in Washington, DC. Photo: Michael Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images

The Trump Department of Justice attempted to obtain the communications records of three Washington Post reporters via legal action over 2017 reports on Russian election interference and Russia's ambassador, court documents unsealed Tuesday show.

Why it matters: The court order was lodged in secret the day before Bill Barr stepped down as attorney general last December.

  • The Biden Justice Department said last month it will no longer secretly seize reporters' records in leak investigations, following revelations that the Trump administration obtained phone records of New York Times, WashPost and CNN reporters.

Details: The order sought to uncover the leaker of classified information contained in three WashPost articles by Adam Entous, Greg Miller and Ellen Nakashima, whose records the Trump administration was trying to obtain:

  • One article from May 2017 on conversations President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner had with Sergey Kislyak, then Russia's ambassador to the U.S.
  • A June 2017 report on how the Obama administration dealt with U.S. election interference by Russia's government.
  • A July 2017 piece on discussions between Kislyak and then-Sen. Jeff Sessions, who went on to become the Trump administration's first attorney general.

Of note: The Biden administration was initially against the unsealing of the documents. Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui said in her order that the government's "sealing power may not be exercised indiscriminately."

  • "A sealed matter is not generally, as the government persists in imagining, 'nailed into a nondescript crate, stored deep in a sprawling, uncataloged warehouse,'" Faruqui said, quoting an earlier opinion that cites the 1981 movie "Raiders of the Lost Ark" — which WashPost notes was made by Attorney General Merick Garland when he was an appeals court judge.
  • "Rather, it is merely frozen in carbonite, awaiting its eventual thawing," Faruqui added, evoking the 1980 film "The Empire Strikes Back."

What they're saying: Washington Post publisher Fred Ryan said in a statement, "Unsealing the application to obtain our reporters' email records was an important step. It remains essential that a full accounting of what happened be made public."

  • Representatives for Barr and the DOJ could not immediately be reached.

Go deeper

Some Jan. 6 witnesses spill for investigators

Rep. Bennie Thompson, chairman of the Jan. 6 Select Committee. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Steve Bannon's refusal to comply with a subpoena from the Jan. 6 Select Committee overshadows the fact that other key witnesses are providing reams of evidence to investigators.

Why it matters: Four years of investigative stonewalling by the Trump administration had a demoralizing effect on Democrats, leaving the impression congressional accountability is a pipe dream. The quiet compliance shows a committee investigation is still feared — and has some clout.

Trump stars in both sides' ads

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios; Screenshots: Republican super PAC (top), Democratic Governors Association (bottom)

Donald Trump is a TV star again — in political ads being run by both parties.

Why it matters: Records show millions of dollars have been spent on ads invoking Trump's name nearly a year after he lost his re-election campaign. It's more evidence of how polarizing and motivating a figure the former president remains for Democrats and Republicans alike.

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies — Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker